The discovery of the self is a lifelong process which takes place between two worlds; internal and external. At first, finding your moral and ethical place in the world—or even your high school—can be overwhelming, being so focused on your internal, adolescent self. But as you absorb and experience new things, your cognitive functions become more cosmopolitan, allowing you to perceive the context of your bubble of reality within The Big Picture. This might make you feel like an insignificant stepper in the “Grand March” of history, but distinguishing the details of your individual identity (i.e. unique circumstances, emotional associations, semantic idiosyncrasies) is the first step to facing life with more confidence and optimism, becoming more spontaneous and ambitious, while actualizing your possibilities.
Do Not Compare Yourself to Others
“Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.” -Jonathan Franzen
Remember this: Every human being is equal and unique, born into varying circumstances, locations, and times. Facebook—and the rest of social media—is a crude, passive tool for forming and maintaining social connections; while it is handy for travelers and “a more connected world,” developing an online identity can disfigure your real one—becoming more narcissistic, self-critical, or envious. It is unfair to compare your internal life with the “highlight reel” on someone else’s timeline, and you never know what is hidden beneath their surface.
Respect Your (Real) Friendships
“Even the smallest person can change the course of history.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Between Tweeting like a celebrity and scanning Netflix in obscurity, your friends will always remind you that your life really does matter—if it doesn’t to you, it does to them. In a way, your friends see you more clearly than you can ever see yourself: have fun, be honest and sympathetic, and express yourself without fear of judgment. Friendship is an ancient and legendary bond: without it, you can forget how incredible, quirky, and valuable your life is.
Learn from the Past, Plan for the Future, but Live in the Present
“You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future. What is past is left behind. The future is as yet unreached. Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there.” -Buddha
While you ruminate on the past or the future, remember that each time you recall a memory, you recreate it: the more you return to certain memories, the more distorted they may be. Regret often exaggerates the magnitude of past mistakes and the fear of future ones. This may prove that emotional stress can cloud your working memory—which strongly correlates to your IQ—and cause your worldview to become pessimistic and vague. You can escape the pressures of another time by accepting and immersing yourself in the present, no matter where you are.
Be Secure Enough to Change
“Maybe the most under-appreciated thing about Steve [Jobs] was that he had the courage to change his mind.” -Tim Cook, Apple CEO
As you stumble onward in your journey, you will find that life is full of contradiction and paradox—and so are you. Though your brain tends to dislike the dissonance produced by conflicting ideas, many of our choices are the lesser of two (or more) evils. No one is perfect, and the heroes among us make the best of their mistakes by learning from them without feeling personally attacked or being hypersensitive to criticism.
Trust Your Judgment, Act Accordingly
“Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me…” -Jorge Luis Borges
The Big Picture is impossibly grand and labyrinthine, but if you trust your instincts, your morals, and your experience to guide you, you will find yourself in the right place. The Galileos and Jobses of our time have shown us that if there is no “right way” to do anything. Nothing is true; everything is permitted. And the time is now. One definitive act is much louder (and much rarer) than a thousand vague words.
Links to previous Lifehack articles:
In Be Secure Enough to Change: “the dissonance produced by conflicting ideas”
In Respect Your (Real) Friendships: “ancient and legendary bond”
Featured photo credit: Raised arms man in the summit of mountain via Shutterstock